Who's Steppin' it UP? Good question ... I wish I knew
I'm out of here, New Orleans. Like New Orleans musicians have done for nearly two centuries, it's time for me to duck out for the summer. In the early 19th century, it was our opera companies wowing the Northeast with the best French opera productions outside of Paris. Now, for better or worse, it's the likes of me along with scores of your favorite local musicians exporting New Orleans music all over the world.
Usually, I have ambivalence about splitting town. This summer, however, exasperated by the controversy over a recent, carefully worded press release titled, "Neighborhoods Outline Seven Essential Items to Make Noise Ordinance Work for New Orleans," I'm ready to leave.
After 18 months of "Riffing On the Tradition" for Nola Vie on the subject of how musicians can re-imagine our music industry, I changed to this new column, "Who's Steppin' It UP?" I wanted a sequel; I wanted to brag about positive trends in the cultural landscape. Well, New Orleans, you're not making it very easy.
In one local news outlet, attorney Ashlye Keaton, who makes a name for herself working to represent the music community, called this plan “condescending and "abhorrent.” ...Well, maybe. You can decide for yourself.
Certainly, the overly simplistic measurement of decibel thresholds is naive at best, and tell me if you detect a theme of, "Don't get us wrong, we love culture ... just don't do it where we can hear it." The emphasis on enforcement, not mediation, doesn't seem very friendly. And as Alex Rawls noticed earlier this week, there is a disconcerting framing of the situation implying that neighborhood groups know better than either the city or culture-bearers what our city's identity should look like and sound like.
Keep your eye on the prize, though. Don't vilify the Brylski Company, which drafted the press release. They were hired to do a dirty little job, that's all. Don't even get too worked up over this coalition of neighborhood groups. I mean, the "Algiers Presidents Council," a handful of people keeping things serene on the West Bank? Or, "Neighbors First for Bywater?" They're another small group that wasn't even conceived until last fall, as opposed to the well-established "Bywater Neighborhood Association," which has been working hard to establish an "Arts and Cultural Overlay for St. Claude Avenue."
Of course, the main emphasis is on the French Quarter. Actually, until digging up a decades-old 8 p.m. curfew law that challenged brass bands on Bourbon Street, the "French Quarter Citizens" group wasn't targeting music specifically. (Ironically, that curfew was created to drive people into Bourbon Street night clubs.)
Their president contends, "what makes the French Quarter truly unique and authentic is the fact that people actually live here." That's so charming, I hate to tell him that millions of visitors to our city aren't coming to see that. If I were to criticize them for anything, it would be their overuse of the phrase “quality of life," which has become a drinking game at public forums because it's uttered so frequently.
So, who IS stepping things up? Maybe Nathan Chapman, the chairperson of this little coalition, who is an expert on marketing for "disability legal services." That's sheer genius, to see a parallel between helping personal injury attorneys and convincing the public of noise legislation beneficence.
According to another attorney, Stuart Smith, who blogs regularly and intelligently about this topic, some of those collateral benefits are for the musicians whose hearing would be protected. Really? One thing is for sure: He's certainly "stepping up" his audacity. I like street performer Juliet Tworsey's take, "How about protecting us from roving teenagers with guns? My ears don't need 'protection'."
If you have an opinion or want to learn more, go to tonight's meeting -- 6 p.m. Monday, June 24 -- of the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans, at the St. Roch Tavern to discuss the noise ordinance. MACCNO is a self-representing group for anyone concerned with these issues, including musicians, buskers, public policy pros, and venue operators.
Let me know how things turn out. Meanwhile, I'll be reporting from abroad, where we seem to be better appreciated as stewards of New Orleans music culture.
Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at [email protected]